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Whistler ski resort in British Columbia. (JONATHAN HAYWARD/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Whistler ski resort in British Columbia. (JONATHAN HAYWARD/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Whistler, first nations at odds over land development limitations Add to ...

The Resort Municipality of Whistler and a pair of first nations are at odds over planned caps to development in Whistler’s proposed updated Official Community Plan, leading to aboriginal hopes of resolving the dispute by negotiation.

The Squamish Nation and Lil’wat First Nation say the development cap, especially on Crown land where the first nations have unresolved claims, could limit future economic opportunities for them.

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“It effectively freezes all potential economic value on Crown lands that have been the subject of consultation with the province,” lawyer Greg McDade, speaking for the first nations, said in an interview on Thursday.

Mr. McDade said the land in question is a small part of the 50,000 hectares of Crown land within Whistler boundaries, and described the situation as unique in the province because of Whistler’s status as a resort community.

Of Whistler, Mr. McDade said, “They believe there is such a thing as big enough and they have reached it.”

Options, he said, include amending the plan to exclude Crown land or excluding future land obtained in treaty talks. “[First nations] are hopeful of resolving this by negotiation.”

Whistler Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden said there have been extensive talks with First Nations on the plan, which must be approved by the province.

The plan covers such issues as land use, planning, social and environmental policies. Although occasionally amended, it has been going through its first full update since 1993.

Ms. Wilhelm-Morden said that the cap might be lifted if certain development criteria such as an extraordinary benefit to the community were met.

“Lifting the cap is available to anybody, including first nations,” she said.

But she said it wasn’t possible to, as requested, suspend land regulations on Crown land because that was a matter to be resolved with the province.

Ms. Wilhelm-Morden said there has effectively always been a development cap in Whistler, and that it has been lifted occasionally.

“We’ve always had it. It’s a limit to our growth. What we’re trying to do is achieve a balance between growth and development and the needs of the resort,” she said. “It’s not a case of building this lovely little home we have in the valley from one end to the other. We’ve always been concerned about a limit to growth.”

The cap, she said, is currently 67,000 “bed units” - a measure that refers to the number of beds that would be either in a home or resort. That number has risen over time.

Bill Bennett, minister for community, sport and cultural development, said in a statement that the Liberal government recognizes the concerns of the Squamish Nation and Lil’wat First Nations.

“I met with first nations representatives in October to hear their concerns first hand and I have encouraged direct engagement between First Nations and the Resort Municipality on the Official Community Plan and future development. We will make sure we understand the interests and concerns of both First Nations and try to address them before making any decisions.”

Public hearings on the plan are scheduled for Nov. 6 prior to provincial government approval.

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